Abstract art = socialist realism

Henry Kissinger in the early 1950s edited a magazine out of Harvard called Confluence, and (presumably with help from some friends in the humanities) he published there a number of influential center-Right literary intellectuals, and a few in the category once known as “anticommunist liberals.” In the latter camp was Richard Rovere; some say Daniel Bell too. Alberto Moravia’s “Communism and Art,” a series of anitcommunist aphorisms, is fascinating.

“A painter like Titian would see abstract art and Socialist Reaism as one. To the former he would say: 'Paint me a hand that is a hand,' to the latter: 'Endow your portraits of generals and politicians with a sense of power, of greatness, of poetry, as I did mine.'”

Another problem of the day was that communist poets know “instead of poetry only artifice.” And “instead of spontaneous creativity only the will to produce.” And this: “Art is memory, propaganda is prophecy.”

So: abstract art and constraint-driven poetry and poems that eschew personal remembrance are worse than bad; they’re subversive.

Okay, so at least we know where Moravia stands. But wait, how will we apply his standards against poetry that has these awful qualities? This is a problem, for, according also to Moravia, “The first requirement of party art should be that it not look like party art.” Ah, so the art that has been described as bad will not seem to have such qualities, which means it might indeed not at all have such qualities, since it might well have been disguised as creative, unabstract, highly personal writing.

Confluence vol 2, no. 2, June 1953.